Saints remain roiled by their erratic play as they approach a high-stakes stretch run

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the best things the New Orleans Saints have going for them right now is the division in which they play.

They left Minnesota disappointed by their mistake- and penalty-filled performance during a 27-19 loss to the Vikings on Sunday that dropped their record to 5-5, but they entered their bye week on Monday still in first place in the NFC South.

“That’s an average win-loss column for us right now," Saints defensive back Alontae Taylor said Monday.

“Everybody's going to take time to really look at themselves in the mirror and see what they can improve on — players and coaches.”

In the NFL, making the playoffs is one thing. Appearing to belong is another.

The Saints do not have a victory over a team that currently has a winning record.

The Indianapolis Colts, who are 5-5, have the best record of any of the five teams New Orleans has beaten this season. Tennessee and Chicago have three victories each. New England has just two and and Carolina only one.

“We'll evaluate everything that we're doing," Saints coach Dennis Allen said Monday. “We know we have to do better than what we've done.”

In a victory over Chicago two weeks ago, the Saints were plus-5 in turnovers and were penalized only once for 5 yards. At Minnesota on Sunday, New Orleans was minus-2 in turnovers and committed nine penalties for 74 yards.

Saints starting quarterback Derek Carr did not turn the ball over, but had led the Saints to just a field goal before being knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms in the third quarter.

Jameis Winston led New Orleans to two touchdowns with 2-point conversions to give the Saints hope in the fourth quarter. But he also was intercepted twice on a pair of long, inaccurate throws — one of which virtually sealed the Saints' fate on third-and-3 with about three minutes left.

Meanwhile, New Orleans' defense looked confused and undisciplined in giving up 24 first-half points before holding the Vikings to just three points in the second half.

“We’ve been way too inconsistent,” Allen said.

WHAT’S WORKING

Taysom Hill is averaging 5.2 yards per carry when he subs in intermittently for QB runs. He had 6 yards on his lone run in Minnesota, but the Saints went away from that play and started passing more after falling behind on Sunday.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Saints still haven't figured out how to contain quarterbacks who run well. Minnesota's Josh Dobbs scrambled for 44 yards, which included several first-down scrambles and a touchdown. That came a week after Bears QB Tyson Bagent rushed for 70 yards. Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence rushed for 59 yards in Week 7. Green Bay's Jordan Love rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown in Week 3.

“Overall run defense on traditional runs has been pretty solid,” Allen said. “When you incorporate the quarterback's feet, it has not been what we need it to be.”

STOCK UP

Rookie receiver A.T. Perry, a sixth-round draft pick out of Wake Forest, had two catches for 38 yards, including a highlight reel-touchdown catch on a throw across the field by Winston. His production came after veteran Michael Thomas left the game with an injury.

“I felt calm and comfortable," Perry said. "I told myself to just play football.”

On his touchdown, Perry had to snatch the ball away from defensive back Byron Murphy, who'd closed on the ball in time to attempt an interception.

“Whenever a ball's in the air and it’s coming toward me, it’s mine," Perry said. "That’s the mentality.”

STOCK DOWN

Allen and his defensive staff. While the unit they oversee ranks in the top third of the NFL overall and leads the league in takeaways, they've struggled in the first half of five straight games, allowing 17 points at Houston, 17 vs. Jacksonville, 20 at Indianapolis, 14 against Chicago and 24 points at Minnesota. They paid for it with losses in three of those games.

“Certainly, I've got to do a better job getting the guys ready when the game starts because it has not been good enough,” Allen said.

INJURIES

Thanks to the bye week, Carr likely won't have to miss a start. Allen said his sore right shoulder is fine and that his return just depends on when he is released from the NFL's concussion protocol.

The same cannot be said for Thomas (knee) or top cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle). While Allen said he does not expect either to be out for the season, he called their injuries “fairly significant,” adding that he didn't want to go into too much detail while awaiting second opinions.

KEY NUMBERS

1 — The number of teams left on the Saints' schedule which currently has a winning record. That's Detroit, which is 7-2 and visits New Orleans on Dec. 3.

NEXT STEPS

After this week's bye, the Saints resume NFC South play when they visit the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 26.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL